You’ve decided you want to go into medicine and you embark upon the arduous path to becoming a physician. You’re busy studying for biology exams, conducting experiments in chemistry lab, and trying to squeeze in some volunteering and (if you’re really ambitious) a bit of research. Now, January rolls around and it’s time to start thinking about the summer. Regardless of how far along you are in your undergraduate pre-med training, carefully choosing your summer plans is essential.
Summer provides an excellent time to further explore the areas of clinical medicine, research, or global health, while also enhancing your medical school application. In fact, Liza Thompson, a medical school admissions consultant and former director of the Johns Hopkins University and Goucher College Post-Baccalaureate Premedical programs told USA Today that “pre-med students who are productively engaged during the summer months have an advantage during the medical school application process”.
It is essential to dedicate sufficient time, often during the summer, to study for the MCAT, take classes if needed, and prepare your medical school application by writing your personal statement and brainstorming for secondary applications. However, many experts including the Princeton Review stress the importance of expanding your learning beyond the classroom setting.
Firstly, consider pursuing some clinical experience, as this will enable you to observe the patient-physician relationship firsthand. The importance of clinical experience cannot be stressed enough; in fact, Emory University School of Medicine lists “exposure to patients in a clinical setting” as one of its application requirements. This can take a variety of forms: shadowing a family member or friend who is in the medical profession or participating in a more formalized summer program.
Some of the more structured programs can be very demanding, but the rewards are quite evident. For example, Project Healthcare created by the Bellevue Hospital Center Emergency Department is an immersive program involving participation in clinical rotations, research and informational lectures, as well as extensive engagement with the community. If you are hoping to make money while gaining clinical experience, certain jobs, such as a hospital scribe, may be of particular interest.
Doing research is another ideal summer activity, as pre-med students can often continue research already started during the school-year or pursue an entirely new area of interest. There are a multitude of structured summer research programs at various institutions across the nation; a comprehensive list by the AAMC can be found here.
Similar to clinical experience, research experience is yet another critical element of the typical medical school application. Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine reports that 92% of their entering class of 2019 engaged in research at the undergraduate or graduate level.
Summer volunteering can also be a continuation of an already existing volunteer placement from the school-year or can be an entirely new volunteering experience. US News stresses the importance of carefully considering the nature of the volunteering, as well as where and for how long you are doing it. It may be most beneficial to volunteer in a medical setting, such as a nursing home, where you can continue to gain relevant experience.
Nonetheless, any sort of volunteering is certainly valuable as it reflects an innate desire to help others: a trait that every pre-med student should certainly possess. Some students choose to engage in more extensive types of volunteering, such as obtaining an EMT certification or volunteering overseas. Volunteering internationally can be particularly valuable for pre-med students, as many are not able to study abroad during the school-year due to course requirements.
Again, as with any volunteering experience, you must carefully assess how meaningful your actual involvement in the activity will be. To start, it can be helpful to explore global health organizations that may have chapters at your university, such as GlobeMed or Global Medical Brigades.
Although these ideas provide an excellent starting point for determining what to do over the summer, they do not provide a comprehensive list of all available opportunities for pre-med students. If you have more specialized interests in the area of public health for example, you may want to explore internships through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, your undergraduate institution may provide a valuable resource for identifying summer opportunities. For example, Swarthmore provides a comprehensive list of summer options for pre-meds that can be found here.
The summer does indeed provide an ideal time for pre-med students to further clarify their interest in medicine and explore the various facets of a profession in healthcare. For guidance on pursuing a pre-med track and applying to medical school, contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help!